The immediate and long-term costs of childhood obesity, for individual kids and for society, deserve more attention from families, nonprofits and, yes, even government.
Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty is making it a personal crusade. That's welcome; the fight needs a local champion.
In the next few weeks, McCarty plans to ask his fellow council members to make Sacramento the largest of some 65 California cities to pass a resolution joining the Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign.
He says he'll work to put more community gardens at schools – like those at Tahoe and Camellia elementaries – both to teach students about food and to grow healthier fare for residents. He also wants to look at banning sodas from vending machines at city libraries and other facilities, along the lines of the landmark 2005 state law that banned sodas from schools.
Most controversially, he wants to explore a local tax on sodas to help pay for school physical fitness and city recreation programs, which he points out have been decimated by three years of budget cuts.
Last Thursday, the latest bill for a statewide soda tax – a penny per ounce – was introduced in the Assembly. It would generate an estimated $1.7 billion a year for state, school and local efforts to fight childhood obesity. It would add 20 cents to the cost of the typical 20-ounce bottle that costs $1.25 out of the machine. A statewide poll released this month found Californians increasingly concerned about childhood obesity; more than half supported a soda tax.
Because the bill would need a two-thirds majority in the Legislature, a local soda tax may actually have a better chance of passage.
Still, McCarty expects a "huge uphill battle" against well-financed opposition from the soft drink industry. It has defeated many recent efforts, arguing that it would be unfairly singled out.
While overeating and lack of exercise in general are to blame, public health advocates persuasively point to studies showing that soda consumption has increased markedly and accounts for nearly half the average increase in calories.
McCarty is pointing a possible soda tax toward the 2012 ballot, which could also be crowded with a parcel tax for youth programs and an assessment for parks maintenance. Since they are all somewhat interrelated, McCarty pledges to work with advocates and fellow council members to come up with the right mix of tax hikes to put before voters. A soda tax may not end up making the most sense, but it ought to be part of the conversation.